I’ve never understood why people get upset about ‘landmark’ birthdays – you know, 40, 50, 60 – but a couple of years back I had the first one of mine with a zero on the end that could have seemed significant, if only because, according to the Bible, I should now be dead. Yes, I’ve had my allotted three score years and ten (plus 18 months now, too). I celebrated it in
with my 3 sisters, 2 brothers (all younger than me) and our spouses. And we had a wonderful time. So much so that I was forced to replace my habitual mantra of ‘Hell is other people’ with (gulp) ‘Heaven is other people’. I am Darwinned (my version of ‘blessed’) with a great family – ‘celebrate’ seems to be the default mode for them and they really should take out a patent on the mechanics of having a good time. Plymouth
There was wonderful food, excellent wine, amazingly creative presents, a specially written and performed song and, most of all, a cake. I say ‘most of all’ because my youngest sister, who made it, managed to crowd onto it objects and images which featured most of my main interests. It would be tedious to list them but, from the obvious ones, such as the crests of my school, university and the city where I’ve lived most of my life and my interest in horse racing and sailing, they ranged to a bicycle and a wee duck (because I ride a bike and confit de canard is probably my favourite meal).
Around the feet of the little, kilted, icing figure who sat carving wood (another hobby of mine) lay tiny wood shavings of icing. A golfer prepared to putt to a flag (in the 70th hole) beside which curly green icing formed the rough which he’d managed to avoid (for a change). Around three sides of the cake were the titles of all my plays and books. But the pièce de résistance lay underneath it all. The cake was propped up on five wee glasses acting as pillars and forming a sort of basement. I peered at it, saw tiny figures beside the pillars and was baffled. My sister said ‘Well, where is it?’ ‘Under the cake,’ I said. Then she patiently teased out of me the realisation that they were in a cellar. It was a scene she’d recreated of the main theme of my book, The Darkness – 5 guys chained to pillars in a cellar.
So why am I bothering to bore you with this? Well, when someone not only knows you so well that they can sum you up in a series of cake decorations but also takes that much trouble on your behalf, it almost suggests (if only briefly) that there may be some truths in life after all – no purpose, no structure, but joyous reminders to confirm that life is definitely worth living.